This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
Authorities in the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan have been forcing hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren to take Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) herbal preparations in a bid to ward off the coronavirus, RFA has learned.
The Lincang No. 2 High School apologized on Monday after issuing a Feb. 29 letter to parents requiring all students, parents and teachers at the school to take a herbal brew based on a prescription issued by the Lincang TCM Hospital.
“All teachers, students and parents must report obtaining the prescription and taking the medicine in a timely manner to their child’s class teacher,” the directive orders. “This will need to be done prior to registration.”
Once school resumes following an epidemic lockdown, the school promised to supply the herbal preparation free of charge.
But the city’s educational bureau intervened after parents complained about the move on social media, ordering the school to suspend the order.
“Individual county (district) education bureaus and municipal schools have erroneously required teachers and students to take herbal medicine, and to upload their receipts, photos and videos of the medication and so on as part of the city’s response to the epidemic,” the bureau said in a statement on Monday.
“[These] inconsistent requirements have caused inconvenience to the teachers and students’ parents and caused adverse effects in the society,” it said. “We hereby apologize and will conduct a full review.”
Lincang No. 2 High School principal Chen Shengwei also apologized along with senior management to teachers, students and parents, pledging to better understand the orders of their superiors in future.
Xi Jinping is keen on TCM
Similar notices had also been handed out to kindergarteners’ parents, requiring children to upload evidence of having drunk the medicine by 5.00 p.m. every day.
Chinese President Xi Jinping is known to be keen to integrate TCM medical practices into the country’s response to the coronavirus epidemic.
Xi told a conference in October that “equal importance should be placed on traditional Chinese and Western medicines and efforts be made to enable them to supplement each other,” state news agency Xinhua reported at the time.
However, there are no known cures or prophylactics for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) that was first reported in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
A legal sector worker surnamed Wu said Xi has recently also called for the use of TCM as a frontline treatment for COVID-19.
“These [officials are] blowing with the prevailing wind, in terms of government policy and the [political] climate,” Wu said. “There is another factor, which is vested interests.”
“Why is [Xi] so keen on TCM, to the extent that TCM classes will be introduced from the fifth grade onwards?” he asked.
“Logically, you’d think that there was some scientific basis for this, but there isn’t.”
“Anyone who understood this stuff would recognize dross when they saw it, and wouldn’t behave like that.”
Nationalism makes TCM political
Education journalist Shi Jun said TCM — once promoted by late supreme leader Mao Zedong — is once more a political issue, because of its link with Xi’s nationalist ideology.
“Who can resist the government when it wants to do something?” Shi said. “TCM has become a political issue, which is to say that Xi Jinping wants to promote it.”
“That’s why local governments around the country have begun pushing it, too,” he said.
Pediatrician and social media star Pei Honggang said schools and government officials have no authority to issue prescriptions, which must be done by a licensed TCM practitioner.
He said it is illegal to require healthy children to take medicine, only to be met with a large number of complaints that he was damaging Lincang’s image in the eyes of the rest of the nation.
Repeated calls to the Lincang municipal government, its education bureau, and to a doctor at the Lincang TCM Hospital rang unanswered on Monday.
Education expert Yang Ningyuan said the prescription hadn’t been clinically verified as effective in preventing infection by COVID-19.
“The problem is that this prescription has never been clinically proven [to work],” Yang said. “Does it even work?”